In order to be classified as Light Whiskey in the U.S., the whiskey must be produced at more than 80% abv [but less than 95% abv] and stored in used or uncharred new oak containers. According to High West, typically in North America, light whiskey gets blended with heavier straight whiskey to make blended Canadian (estimated to be greater than 95% of all Canadian whiskey) as well as most American blended whiskeys that are not blended straight whiskeys.
This is a limited release that is sold at High West’s Blue Sky Ranch Distillery and Saloon & Distillery locations located in Wanship and Park City Utah, respectively. This whiskey consists of an MGP light whiskey mashbill, which they state on their website usually consists of 99% corn and 1% barely malt. According to High West, they sourced 100 barrels of light whiskey from MGP produced between 1999 and 2001 and aged in second-fill barrels.
While not deep, the nose is inviting. If you’re a vanilla fan, you’re in for a treat as the nose is predominantly made up of heavy doses of vanilla. Lightly layered under the vanilla are traces of sweet caramel and touches of honey; all of which are trailed by a clear ethanol undertone. The ethanol doesn’t take away from the nose by any means, but it also makes its presence known with each deep inhale I take.
The nose set me up for a palate I wasn’t ready for. I assumed I was about to encounter a pretty one-dimensional palate. Instead, I’m blown away by what greets me. A lush palate full of light chocolate, berries, sweet frozen grapes, and honey are all entwined by rich vanilla. It sounds like a weird combination, but all of the sweet flavors play nicely together and form a delicious palate overall.
Where the ethanol made itself known in the nose, the palate contains very little heat and I’m able to roll the whiskey around my mouth thanks in part to the fact that there's almost no burn. The palate consists of a great viscosity that, while not super heavy, is a nice weight that coats your mouth perfectly. Really unexpected and well done.
The vanilla continues to shine through the finish and is the predominant trait once again. I’m also greeted with ever so faint hints of caramel and oak and the fleeing ghosts of sugary fruits found in the palate. The finish lingers for a while with an enjoyable vanilla flavor that slowly fades away well after I take a sip, yet it doesn’t hold a candle to the palate that preceded it.
I give High West credit for releasing a light whiskey to the market. I have to admit that up until this release, I hadn’t had a chance to try a light whiskey before and didn’t know too much about the concept. This isn’t for lack of trying, rather the fact that no major American Whiskey distiller that I know of regularly produces a light whiskey and bottles it as such for consumer purchase. If you’re interested in more of the backstory about how light whiskey came to be in the U.S., Chuck Cowdery did a great in-depth write-up.
Additionally, the entire time I was tasting this whiskey, I forgot that I was drinking a 14 year old whiskey. The whiskey is so light and vibrant in taste that I’d bet good money if I had someone blind taste test this, they would peg it for a whiskey at least half its age. It’s amazing that it’s spent so much time in the wood, but doesn’t taste at all woody. This whiskey is one that’s really interesting and unlike anything I’ve experienced with a whiskey aged this long.
The going rate for special distillery-only High West releases tends to be $100 or more, and once again High West hits this target for their 14 Year Old Light Whiskey. On the one hand you’re paying for the ability to try a type of whiskey that you normally don’t come across everyday in the American marketplace. On the other hand, this whiskey, while tasty, isn’t very deep outside of the palate, and might let down those who are looking for a deeper tasting experience for the money.
When compared to other one-time cheaper limited releases on the market, such as Barrell Bourbon’s excellent Batch 005 or 006, 14 Year Old Light Whiskey just doesn’t stack up in flavor or in price. I can see this being more of an impulse buy for people who are touring the distillery and want to take home something special that they can’t find in the marketplace. Just realize that if you do find yourself in this situation, you’re paying a high price to try a type of whiskey that normally isn’t produced to sell to consumers and while enjoyable, is generally basic outside of the palate for the high price of admission.
It’s a shame High West isn’t distributing this outside of their on-site gift shops, as this 14 Year Old Light Whiskey is one tasty whiskey that’s as easy to drink as they come.
The best way to summarize this whiskey is like the log ride at an amusement park. You start off unsure of what to expect in the nose as the ride slowly pulls you up the hill, followed by an amazing thrill as you rush down and taste the palate. Ultimately, the finish leaves you satisfied, but you yearn to go back and experience the thrill of the ride again. Thankfully that’s easy to accommodate, since this is an easy drinker.
Yes the price tag is high for what it is, but personally I really liked this whiskey and I’d probably buy a bottle if I came across one. However being a distillery-only release, and one that’s not the easiest to get to, that probably won’t be happening anytime soon. And that’s the ultimate shame of it all. While I think the new High West Blue Sky Ranch Distillery is gorgeous to experience in person, it’s also one that not many people will go out of their way to visit unless they're already nearby for another event. I really wish High West would have offered half of their stock for their onsite sales, and the other half to sell on the open market. Unless High West decides to start buying MGP light whiskey in bulk and aging it for mass production and distribution, it’s a shame more people won’t get a chance to at least try this. Especially since this light whiskey is a really interesting experience and a great way to continue one's whiskey education.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy High West. We thank them for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.